01 December 2006

World AIDS Day, 2006

I want to mark World AIDS Day in several ways. The first is to recall the early politics of AIDS in the US. Here I recommend this book AIDS DEMOGRAPHICS by my colleague here at Rochester Douglas Crimp (along with Adam Rolston). First published in 1990, it is now, unfortunately, out of print. If you are interested in visual politics and the uses of photography I urge you to track it down. I assign it in my freshman seminar and find that the history it chronicles - the way ACT UP New York created strategies to render the ongoing epidemic visible - can help inspire students to think about how they might use their (often considerable) talents for critical political purposes.

This now familiar graphic is among those crafted early on by members of ACTUP New York (actually by a precursor group that worked cooperatively with them). The message it conveys remains powerful. In that respect, I want, second, I want to call attention to the UNAIDS web page where you can locate information on the toll the global AIDS/HIV edpidemic continues to take.

Finally, a bit of promotion for a journal I edit for the American Political Sccience Association called Perspectives on Politics. The December issue (Volume 4, #4) should be out soon - not exactly "on the newwsstands" but surely in a local college library. It contains a short symposium co-edited by Meredith Weiss and Michael Bosia to mark the 25th Anniversary of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In my editorial introduction I write:

"The issue opens, by design, with ... a symposium entitled "25 Years at the Margins: The Global Politics of HIV/AIDS." I say ‘by design’ because the symposium is intended to commemorate the initial scientific documentation of the HIV virus in 1981. However, our aim in publishing, and indeed in leading off with, the symposium is not simply to commemorate. Whether explicitly or implicitly all of the contributions to the symposium also remonstrate with the discipline and its intellectual priorities. As Andrea Densham points out in her introduction, with a handful of prominent exceptions, political scientists largely have neglected the comparative, domestic, and international politics of HIV/AIDS. The remaining four contributions make no claim to be comprehensive but aim instead to indicate the scope and scale of the ongoing AIDS epidemic and some of its political causes and consequences across a diverse array of cases - France, South Africa, Brazil, Barbados, Malaysia and Singapore. By implication the contributors highlight too the scope and scale of our neglect.

Upon reading the penultimate version of the symposium I considered the possibility that this charge might perhaps be overstated. As far as I have been able to ascertain, it is not. A quick search on JSTOR and the Social Science Citation Index suggests that with only extremely rare exceptions, over the past quarter century none of the top dozen or so general or specialized journals in the discipline or its primary sub-fields have published so much as a single research article directly addressing the politics of HIV/AIDS. I am sure that that claim will be challenged but I also am confident that any correction I might be compelled to make will be marginal. The exceptions, if any might be found, will prove the rule. It is crucial to add that we political scientists cannot simply plead ignorance or irrelevance here, since as long ago as 1992 Kenneth Sherrill, Carolyn Somerville and Robert Bailey had indicated quite forcefully "What Political Science is Missing By Not Studying AIDS" (PS: Political Science & Politics 25(4):688-93). Having said all that, I implore you not to read this symposium simply as an indictment. That would be a mistake. The contributors to the symposium are extending an invitation, one imploring that we focus our intellectual energies and research skills on what indisputably remains a very urgent set of political problems. I urge political scientists to accept the invitation. Indeed, the pages of Perspectives on Politics would provide a perfect forum for the results that such inquiry might generate."

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